Tech support scams are an industry-wide issue where the bad guys use scare tactics to trick you into unnecessary technical support services that supposedly fix “severe” device, platform, or software problems.  These problems DO NOT EXIST, but scammers will do everything in their power to convince you that they do and that you’re about to lose your life’s work if you don’t let them “fix” your computer.  At best, these scammers are trying to convince you to pay them to deal with a NONEXISTANT problem with your device or software. At worst, they are trying to steal your personal or financial information.  If you allow them to remote into your computer to perform this "fix" they will often install malware, ransomware, or other unwanted programs that can steal your information or damage your data or device.

How tech support scams work

Scammers often call you directly on the phone, they will pretend to be representatives of a tech company. They might go so far as to spoof the caller ID so that it displays a legitimate support phone number from a trusted company. They will often ask you to install applications giving them remote access to your device. Using remote access, these experienced crooks can misrepresent normal system messages as signs of problems.

Scammers also initiate contact by displaying fake error messages on websites you visit, displaying support numbers and enticing you to call.  As a Microsoft MVP, I spend considerable time in online help forums and these messages are fairly common, here’s an example of one:

They can also put your browser in full screen mode and display pop-up messages that won't go away, apparently locking your browser. These fake error messages aim to scare you into calling their "technical support hotline".  When you engage with the scammers, they offer fake solutions for your “problems” and ask for payment in the form of a one-time fee or subscription to a purported support service.  If you agree to their ”service”, you’ve given them Carte Blanche to muck about inside your machine to their heart’s content.

How to protect against tech support scams

  • Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer. Any communication with Microsoft MUST be initiated by YOU.
  • If a pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, DO NOT call the number. Error and warning messages from Microsoft never include a phone number.
  • Download software only from official Microsoft partner websites or the Microsoft Store. Be wary of downloading software from third-party sites, as some of them might have been modified without the author’s knowledge to bundle support malware and other threats.
  • Use Microsoft Edge when browsing the internet. It blocks known support scam sites using Windows Defender SmartScreen. Furthermore, Microsoft Edge can stop pop-up dialog loops used by these attackers.
  • Turn on Windows Security real-time antivirus protection in Windows 10. It detects and removes known support scam malware.
  • Microsoft technical support will never ask that you pay for support in the form of Bitcoin or gift cards.

Reporting tech support scams

Help Microsoft stop scammers, whether they claim to be from Microsoft or from another tech company, by reporting tech support scams:

You can also report unsafe websites in Microsoft Edge by selecting Settings and More  > Help and Feedback > Report unsafe site  when you encounter something suspicious.  More information is available here.